Thursday, July 25, 2013

Familiar Faces: California Vines ~ California Wines

California is my kind if déjà vu. Wherever I go, there is a memory. When I talk to someone from California, we share commonalities, whether it be the schools we went to, the wines we grew up drinking or the ways we think about planet earth. It’s a great place for aspirations, especially in a world where, it seems, politicians are constantly reverting to gridlock and breaking things down. Sure, California has their share of extremists, like anywhere, but the state is so large, one can almost believe there is a place where others feel and think like oneself.


Sitting in a little movie theatre on the Mendocino coast, lovingly restored by private donations, an old college chum invited us to Monday night movies. The film was “Into the White,” made in 2012 about a World War II event. Afterwards, when the credits rolled and the lights went up, we all talked about the film. It was then that I realized there are spaces where folks live who share some of my beliefs. Most of the time in Lone Star land, I sit silent while I listen to hate and vitriol all around me, in the name of freedom of expression. Over and over the quote, “it is easier to destroy than it is to create,” rolls past my mind, like an endless mantra of remembrance for those with us on this planet who still break down and live in fear and hate. This night, I was silent, but there were many in the room speaking for me. I was in a room of like-minded people. It felt like coming home.

Over the past week, the wines, from the light whites that I tried in Napa Valley, to the Sonoma Coast and Mendocino, Pinot Noir, Syrah, sparkling wine, any number of wines I could very happily drink for the rest of my life. Thinking about it in fact, there could be a wine, a white, a rose and a little red, if I made an amount every year, in the way I’d like, I could drink that wine happily. That said my winemaking days are probably best left in the past. For now there are so many intriguing wines to try. And California, like Italy, speaks to me in a way that grazes my soul.

What I am seeing, first in Europe, then in places like New York, San Francisco, Dallas, Cleveland, New Orleans, and so on, are folks who are looking for leaner wines. Wines which aren’t so bold, so big, so aggressive, so destructive? Sure, I’ll say it – excessive alcohol sears my palate (and brain) like a wild fire. I want it cooler, whether it comes from Le Marche, or Etna or Anderson Valley. And it seems there are winemakers who have gotten that message as well.


I remember a young wine clerk, 20 years ago, his dream was to move to California and make wine. He did go, and he makes wine now that is getting high scores, accolades, acclaim. I tasted one of his wines the other day. He’s still young, as is his palate. So his tastes go towards a racier style. In contrast with that I sipped on a wine from the Santa Cruz Hills; the winemaker has been around for awhile. His tastes run more towards lean, delicate, not so assertive. His wines, like he, seem to be more comfortable in their skin than our young ambitious winemaker. For wine drinkers, for sommeliers, for wine merchants and as well, for winemakers, the evolution of one’s tastes are reflected in the wines one enjoys (or makes) and then tries to find the tribe that those wines speak to.

I could as easily enjoy a Grenache from California as I could from Sicily. Or France. Providing the final product speaks to me. Is that winemaking? Is it terroir? Is it style? Is it manipulation?


Yes it is easier to destroy than it is to create, but isn’t the act of creation, or in the case of us wine lovers, re-creation, so much more endearing than forever breaking down the walls?

Yesterday, as we left the valleys filled with vines, I felt sorry to leave them, back to the heat-filled life that awaits us. Fortunately I can always go home, virtually, every time we open a wine that is more like a friend, like those in that movie house, filled with familiar faces and compatible ambitions.



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1 comment:

Steve Matthiasson said...

Great post, makes me hopeful for future of California winemaking to see California recognized for it's potential for elegant wines rather than just its powerful wines. Both are possible here, and that is part of the magic of this place.

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